Inicia-se lá fora uma discussão sobre o currículo de economia, com a maior sugestão sendo a incorporação de mais história, mais discussão e mais abordagens alternativas. A principal preocupação é o que retirar do currículo (dado que o tempo já é curto) e como isso afeta a avaliação da faculdade. Transpondo para o Brasil: qual é o efeito que a participação na ANPEC tem nos currículos das universidades e que viés ela impõe (implicitamente)? Qual é o papel do conteúdo pedido pelos concursos públicos? Já temos visto que alguns concursos mais recentes vêm mudando claramente o que é cobrado (BNDES, o último IPEA). Devemos nos preocupar?
A surprising number of the employers present suggested the need for teaching more economic history; and also a focus on the international context rather than just national economic data; and a better practical grasp of quantitative methods including collecting and understanding data (as opposed to more sophisticated econometric techniques). A preliminary assessment of a survey conducted among employees in the Government Economic Service has confirmed these are important areas in undergraduate preparation. For example, the preparation of briefing material for non-experts was described as the most important task, by some distance, of these public sector economists. The survey may now be extended to private sector economists through the Society of Business Economists.
However, there was also sympathy among the academics present for providing a broader context in economics courses, as indeed there was in a selection of essays by academics (mainly in the US) written for advance circulation to participants ahead of the conference.2 Academics were cautious, however, about suggesting adding more to the curriculum without clarity about what could be removed. There was a discussion about the barriers to change within the university sector. Among the barriers cited were:
- The fact that the curriculum is already full, and that students have to spend a good deal of time applying for internships, as well as for jobs, at the end of their studies.
- The resistance of students to having to use their initiative rather than being spoon-fed material to get them through exams, and the likelihood that course and teaching innovations would result in negative ratings in the National Student Survey.
- Competition between universities taking the form of an arms race to teach more and more technical material, resulting in the selection of only the most mathematically-able sixth formers.
- An unwillingness on the part of universities to provide a pathway for non-mathematical students who are nevertheless interested in economics, and too little variety in undergraduate courses; the related – and incorrect – presumption that most economics graduates will work as economists.
- The narrow selection of journals included in the Research Assessment Exercise/Research Excellence Framework, resulting in a supply of teachers in universities whose interests and expertise fall into a relatively narrow range of subjects and approaches. For example, it was said there are not enough people in UK universities who could teach economic history courses at present.
- The need to use standard textbooks which all conform to the same approach, as large US publishers are unwilling to risk an alternative – yet most economists would regard the majority of the highly conventional material in most of these basic textbooks as over-simplified at best, or actually incorrect.